US must invest more in artificial intelligence for defence
By William Davies, associate aerospace and defence analyst at GlobalData
A recent report from the Future Defense Task Force, a bipartisan congressional panel, has reiterated the need for the US to invest more heavily in artificial intelligence (AI). While the US has increased spending in this area in recent years, this report reflects the growing belief within US military circles that spending on advanced technologies is still far lower than it needs to be to address future conflict scenarios.
Despite new organisations such as the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) providing an increased focus on AI, the US is still lacking in technological readiness and must focus on transformative solutions rather than single use efforts, as well as creating a common AI foundation and developing a leading workforce — points the Department of Defense (DoD) outlined in its 2020 strategy document. Additionally, there will also need to be further integration with major defence programmes, and a more concerted approach for advanced technologies.
Generating AI capability requires defence actors to work significantly more with the private sector. Current leaders in this space include companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. The DoD has previously had problems working with technology companies because of internal resistance to DoD goals, with Google opting in 2019 not to renew its contract for Project Maven due to employee pushback.
In addition to working with the larger, more established private sector companies, the US also needs to engage with, and specifically develop, an ecosystem of small and medium sized (SME) companies and startups. Recognising this need, the report suggests raising the funding ten-fold for efforts to corral private sector expertise through initiatives such as the Defense Innovation Unit.
The US must pursue more serious integration with current and future defence programmes and consider the applications of AI in all areas of defence including logistics and cyber operations, and in particular the development of semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles. However, other major powers such as China and Russia are also investing heavily in this area, with China aiming to be a world leader and bring the domestic value of its AI industry to $150bn by 2030.
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